“How did the Holy Spirit work in the Old Testament and how is this different from the New?” Surprisingly, this is a question that I have gotten many times as a pastor. And, it is an important question. After all, we are talking about the activity of God in history, specifically salvation history. Believers should ask the question and pastors should be able to answer it.
Dr. Jim Hamiliton aims to help both. In this book God’s Indwelling Presence he embarks upon a study of the Holy Spirit’s activity in salvation history. To do this Hamilton had to interact with the work of indwelling, regeneration, baptism, and empowering. While the author spends sufficient time working through each, he spends most of his time contending that while old covenant believers were regenerated by the Holy Spirit they were not indwelt. This ministry (indwelling) is specific to the New Covenant. In an interesting disclosure he writes,
As I embarked upon this study I planned to argue that Old Testament saints were indwelt, but the evidence to the contrary forced me to abandon that position. Those who hold that old covenant believers were indwell have not given satisfactory explanations of the salvation-historical aspects of John’s Gospel, particularly 7:39 and 16:7.
A strength of this work is Hamilton’s detailed work in the text while maintaining a strong emphasis upon biblical theology. He dives deeply underwater to find textual treasure but then comes up to the surface after every find to show how it connects to both “shores” …
“And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.” (Mark 14:53)
At the trial of Jesus we have him being led to the chief priest. Here we have a very ironic scene that is both historically and theologically charged.
In the Bible we understand that everything ultimately points to the person and work of Christ (Lk. 24:26-27, 44-47). The Old Testament is laden with shadows pointing forward to the substance which is Christ (Col. 2:16-17). As question 19 in the Heidelberg Catechism say, “God began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later God proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets and foreshadowed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and finally God fulfilled it through his own beloved Son.”
So here in this scene we have Jesus standing before the high priest. Or, we might say, the substance (Jesus) standing before the shadow (high priest).
An interesting thing happens when we watch a movie or read a book. We are able to simultaneously live amid two realities. On the one hand, we are wrapped into the movie or the book. We lean forward in our seats, clench our fists, perhaps even shed a tear or two.
But, at the same time, we know that it is not real. After all, we paid for a ticket to the show! Regardless, we can effortlessly live between what is real and what is fantasy. In the wisdom and kindness of God’s creative design, we can enjoy refreshment amid our daily life while still living in it. It is something of a recreational vacation without having to travel.
And, we don’t really feel the tension, we certainly don’t ask questions–we just enjoy the entertainment benefits.
I’ve observed a similar dynamic with the Christian life. We know that we sin—even as Christians, we sin. We know also, that God is holy. We have these two realities side by side: our sin and God’s holiness. Do you feel the tension? These two realities don’t seem able to coexist.
How can they?
Why is this? How is this? It is because it is a living book. Like Spurgeon said, I’ve read many books, this book reads me! It is true—the Bible is alive. Scripture says as much:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The Word is a sword that is all knife; it cuts both ways. It is sharp.
“It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Hebrews 7:7)
Like a shaken two-liter of soda in the hands of a 5-year-old, the story of Melchizedek is fully charged and overflowing in Christological significance. We learn of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ’s priesthood by means of this somewhat mysterious and obscure type from Salem. It is upon this new priesthood that the new covenant is built. For a guy with only a hand-full of Old Testament verses he sure does get a lot of airtime in the New Testament Scriptures.
There is one phrase that arrests my attention in Hebrews 7 however. It is this statement about the inferior being blessed by the superior. In the case of the narrative we are talking about Genesis 14 where Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek.
The context of chapters 13 & 14 include a story of Abram and Lot separating because their hired hands could not get along (Gen. 13.13). Abram went toward the land of Canaan and Lot towards Sodom. Following this a war breaks out and Sodom, along with 4 other kings, are defeated by the 4 king coalition from the north. Consequently, Sodom, and Lot with them, were dragged north towards Mesopotamia. When Abram hears about this he gathers his crew and charges after them. In due time he catches them, battles them, and wins. He takes Lot and all of his possessions and turns around to go home. Abram is legit.
I once heard someone ask RC Sproul a question. “What is the point of creation?” His answer was, “Holiness.” He nuanced it a bit to include “that people would glorify God by means of holiness.” If Sproul is correct (and I think he is) then this is a staggering statement. God is pursuing his glory through the reflection of his own holiness. The obvious problem here is the reality that none of us perfectly reflect this holiness. When we sin we are failing to be holy as he is holy.
When you think about the divine pursuit and the human problem then the Bible’s tone makes a lot of sense. What you basically have is God speaking and acting in order to procure holiness by waking people out of their rebellion.
How does God do this? How does he get people’s attention? How does he get your attention?
Sometimes it’s the little things, the small details, that hit the high notes of our praise.
David was on the run from a brood who wanted him out as king. There are thousands pursuing him, as Psalm 3 says. To make matters worse the coup is led by none other than his son Absolom. The king is fleeing the people who were supposed to be loyal we’re pursuing.
I remember the day I first heard the gospel, it was awesome. My faithful friend unpacked the message of the gospel to this weary sinner. I was pierced through. I needed a Savior and I knew it. As our discussion came to a natural end, my friend found out that I did not own a Bible. So as a good friend he gave me the one he was carrying. It was a green pocket New Testament with the Psalms & Proverbs. It comfortably was transferred from the pocket of his military cargo pants to my own. I was and am thankful for my friend John’s kindness and graciousness that day.
However, what I am a little bent about is that Bible. As I mentioned it was the NT, Psalms & Proverbs. It did not include the Old Testament Scriptures. This was a bit of a problem for me. I had zero Bible knowledge at this point. I did not know that the Bible had two testaments, I thought ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ last name, and couldn’t understand the purpose for all of these various letters (epistles). But I read my green King James New Testament as tried to get stuff figured out.
You may be familiar with the story in 1 Kings 21. Ahab is one of the worst kings in the history of Israel. His lusts knows no bounds. One day he decides that he wants to take the vineyard that belonged to a man named Naboth. He offered to give him another patch of land or even to buy it from him. However, Naboth resisted: ‘”The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1Ki 21.3)
Naboth refused because the land was part of his inheritance. We might think that this is dripping with the sentimentality of family. And it may. But more than that, it represents the Hebrew mindset that the land is a gift from God. Naboth can’t just “give it up and take something else.” The land is not like a pair of sneakers or upgrading a phone.
As we read on we see that Ahab’s wife, the notorious Jezebel, does his dirty work. She gets a couple of worthless guys together to accuse Naboth of something he did not do in order to put him to death. This she does successfully. The innocent Naboth is killed outside the city because of a false accusation of blasphemy.
In the past I have been guilty of treating the Book of Proverbs a little bit like a commute to work. I sped through familiar passages and topics while aiming to get where I needed to go. Often times this destination has been a rebuke that I needed to hear concerning my tongue or some help toward counseling people more effectively. In short, I did not enjoy the commute through Proverbs like I should.
However, I recently begun reading this book on my days off, leisurely making my way through and highlighting along the way. You’ll never guess what happened. I began to see and smell the gospel flowers in full bloom. I heard the chirping birds with their songs of deliverance. The gospel notes are hit surprisingly well in this wisdom book. Some days I feel like Jacob grabbing ahold of that text, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Gen. 32.26) God has been good; I’ve been greatly blessed to say the least.
In effort to share and shamelessly disrupt others’ “commute” through this book, I have compiled a short list of verses along with some personal reflections on them. (Note: I quote the verse first and then a gospel meditation in italics after)